From The Inbox

Ode to the 5-wood

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Golfers looking for a high level of performance from a 5-wood may find the High Heat 257+ version to their liking. [Photo: High Heat]

What ever happened to the 5-wood?

Maybe it’s me, but 5-woods and fairway woods, in general, seem to have all the sizzle of a kelp smoothie these days. They are the new orphans of golf. I half-expect to pick up a milk carton and see a photo of a 5-wood on the side with the question, “Have you seen this club?”

Here’s how I know the 5-wood is being discriminated against: Tiger Woods often carries one and while he is slightly more effective with it than I am, not even he can generate enough buzz to get the 5-wood a seat at the Sexy Golf Equipment Roundtable.

If John Keats wrote golf, this would be, “An Ode to a Fairway Metal.” It would also mention Grecian urns, nightingales and be better written. I bring this alarming topic to light because: I have a new (5-)wood. It is so good. (Beat that sophisticated rhyme, Keats… if you can. And by the way, what’s a Greek urn? About 50 drachmas a week.)

In fact, the High Heat 257+ 5-wood is the new go-to club in my bag. Most of us amateur hacks have a go-to club, one club in the bag we can rely on in times of trouble. The High Heat 257+ replaces my battered, but trusty, Adams Idea Boxer hybrid as that club.

>> TEI Inbox: Readers share their go-to clubs

I know why 5-woods don’t get more attention. The big equipment makers would rather sell you a $500 driver. That’s the money club, it has all the sex appeal. Most avid amateurs own half a dozen drivers, or more, in the hopes of finding one they can hit. 

Nobody owns half a dozen 5-woods. So in the retail world, it’s all driver, driver, driver all the time. Once you go for the big club, then the equipment companies get interested in selling you matching fairway woods and hybrids. Fairway woods have become an afterthought. That explains why a little boutique manufacturer such as High Heat can do things the big guys should be doing but aren’t. 

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The 257+ line seeks to improve forgiveness in the heel and toe areas of the driver, fairways woods and hybrids — areas where amateurs have the most mis-hits. [Photo: High Heat]

Dean Knuth is High Heat’s founder. He lives in the greater San Diego sprawl. He’s a former Navy man who went to work for the United States Golf Association after he got out of the service. Knuth is best-known for inventing the SLOPE system for handicapping. 

Knuth started in the club-making business 16 years ago. He was interested in using what he learned in the Navy about the transfer of energy in submarine warfare and applying it to making a better driver for golfers. His first High Heat driver was made from pressed Russian titanium and while Knuth produced only 400 models on that original run, that club was hot and it stayed in my bag for one whole summer.

He came back with a new and improved version a few years ago, then updated it in 2016 with newer technology and last year added a 5-wood, 7-wood and hybrid. His latest designs fill a gap.

“The major brands are more interested in who advertises for them, which is tour players,” Knuth said. “Tour pros hit it on the center of the clubface and the ball goes a long way. The amateur doesn’t. The amateur’s shots are all over the clubface.”

Knuth’s solution was to improve the forgiveness in the heel and toe areas of the driver, fairways woods and hybrids, where amateur have mis-hits. The big companies have to keep tour pros happy so they focus on making the center of the clubface as hot as possible, within USGA limits. The heel and toe areas get lip service.

The High Heat 257+ fairway clubs have two advantages over most big-name clubs. One, the woods have titanium faces. Steel is the metal of choice for most other clubmakers. 

“A titanium face gives you a much higher ball speed,” Knuth said. “There’s only so much you can do with steel and 99 percent of the fairway clubs are steel. You can’t get much forgiveness on a steel fairway wood, anyway, and you can barely get to the USGA speed limit in the center of a clubface made of steel.”

In short, rock crushes scissors, scissors cut paper and titanium tops steel.

Also, High Heat clubs have the equivalent of three separate sweet spots. There’s one in the clubface center like every other club, plus one in the heel and another in the toe. Instead of a trampoline effect just in the center, High Heat has what Knuth calls three-trampoline technology.

That sounds like marketing baloney, but independent testing has shown that the entire line of High Heat clubs — from driver to fairway woods (3-, 5- and 7-) and hybrids — are somewhere between 33 percent to 48 percent hotter on the toe and heel than comparable clubs from major manufacturers. 

The 257+ name, by the way, is a reference to 257 microseconds, the legal limit the USGA uses to measure the trampoline-effect on the central impact area. The USGA raised that limit to 275 for all heel-and-toe areas in 2016, which is why Knuth outfitted his clubs with three-trampoline technology. 

High Heat wins the heel-and-toe numbers game because the big companies have to favor elite players while High Heat focuses on game improvement clubs for amateurs. Amateurs with swing speeds below 105 mph need clubs with a deeper and lower center of gravity. High-speed tour swings need the center of gravity moved forward and up. That inherent conflict seldom gets discussed in golf.

“High Heat has the trampoline effect throughout the clubface, it doesn’t matter where you hit it,” Knuth said. “Nobody else is doing anything other than making the clubface center as hot as possible.”

In other words, the buying public a takes a back seat to the pros. That seems bass-ackward, if you know what I mean, because it’s the public who buys clubs. 

There’s one more upside to High Heat’s fairway clubs. They help Knuth, an avid golfer but not an elite player. 

“There’s never been a 3-wood I could hit before this,” he said with a laugh. “Finally, I have something I can launch high every time and know I’m not going to dig it or top it.”

Knuth is biased, of course, but I think he meant to say that he, too, has a new go-to club. He’s got his 3-wood, I’ve got my 5-wood. It’s all good.


Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. 

Email: gvansick@aol.com
Twitter: @GaryVanSickle